Although construction commonly is thought of as a man's arena, some local companies and organizations are coming up with initiatives to generate camaraderie among women employed in the industry -- both in offices and on job sites -- and to help others embarking on careers understand the benefits and opportunities available to them.

At Turner Construction Co.'s Columbus office, female empowerment has taken the form of a new group, Building Turner Women.

Building Turner Women focuses on empowering women as individuals, in their careers and in their communities, said Carolyn VanPaepeghem, a senior estimator in Turner's preconstruction department and one of the leads for the group.

For example, women in the group participated in a welding training at Columbus State Community College in observation of Women in Construction Week, which was March 3 to 9.

Jess Headland is a superintendent for Turner Construction Co., but March 6 she joined several other female Turner employees for the training in a basement at Columbus State Community College.

The women donned welding jackets, gloves, welding shields and safety glasses for a crash course in welding delivered by Columbus State professor Scott Laslo.

Headland said the training gave her an appreciation for the physical tasks she and other Turner superintendents ask of the skilled-trades workers they oversee.

"To us, it's simple," she said.

Turner has a nationwide presence as a construction-management company, but the Building Turner Women group only has been launched in Columbus, according to VanPaepeghem.

The group includes 40 women from the Columbus office, VanPaepeghem said, and the Columbus office has about 200 employees.

In construction, minorities can have difficulty finding their voices, taking ownership of their positions and acting with confidence, said Vanessa Jester, workforce-development manager at Turner and co-lead of the women's group.

Turner's group helps the company retain its female employees as they come into the industry, Jester said.

"It gives us a safe space to provide coaching and mentorship," she said.

It also provides a targeted career path and a recruiting mechanism.

Central Ohio is in the middle of a construction boom, Jester said, and having an inclusive workforce is important to mirror the types of global projects, such as data centers and distribution centers, that are becoming more common. Such diversity, she said, only benefits creative-thought processes.

Jasmine Johnson, a procurement agent with Turner, said she began her full-time role with the Columbus office in January 2018 after working for the company for two years as an intern.

She said she has noticed an increase in diversity related to both gender and race at her office, an increase she attributes to Turner's push to diversify its workforce and be inclusive.

As a newer hire, Johnson said, Turner's women's group has given her an opportunity to gain support and guidance from other employees.

"It's just a great opportunity for mentoring and coaching," she said.

Turner's group meets monthly, either phone or in person, and it focuses on such topics as confidence, outcomes and how to be a leader, VanPaepeghem said. Its members also plan to organize workforce-outreach efforts to show girls opportunities exist for them in the construction industry, she said.

The challenge is to break biases related to gender in construction, VanPaepeghem said.

According to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, the state had 12,880 registered construction apprentices as of Sept. 12, 2018. Of those, 623 were women, and 91 percent of those women were enrolled in Ohio Building Trades apprenticeship programs.

Kitty French is communications and outreach coordinator for Affiliated Construction Trades Ohio, which "advocates for quality, safe construction by contractors and skilled craftsmen with integrity," according to its website, actohio.org.

French said as of February 2019, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show women make up 47 percent of the nation's workforce, and broader, undated data from the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau indicate women are 43.1 percent of the workforce.

But a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which was based on 2016 date, indicated female employees were only 9 percent of the nation's construction workforce, she said.

Depending on what area of the country one works in, only 3 percent to 12 percent of women are on construction sites, said Karen Vroman-Ells, Ohio program coordinator for Chicago Women in Trades. Those low numbers can create feelings of isolation for the women, she said.

Chicago Women in Trades, a nonprofit organization, supports women who want to become viable candidates to apply for construction apprenticeship programs, Vroman-Ells said. The organization uses pre-apprenticeship programs to train women on how to use tools and is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, she said. It partners with nine affiliate organizations across the nation, she said.

Being the only woman on a job site can be difficult for a number of reasons, she said.

For one, a woman could feel embarrassed asking for help or information without another woman to confide in or learn from, Vroman-Ells said.

"That's very difficult for women," she said.

The hours in construction also can be prohibitive -- starting early and ending early -- for women who need to find child care. No paid leave or sick leave usually is available in this type of work, either, she said.

But baby boomers who are aging and leaving the workforce and a general increase in construction create opportunities for anyone interested in the construction trades, Vroman-Ells said.

In particular, welding is in high demand, and it's usable in a variety of trades, including electrical work, plumbing, pipe fitting, iron working and insulating, Vroman-Ells said. Women, who often are adept at activities requiring fine motor skills, naturally are well-suited, she said.

Examples of trades that are popular with women include electrical work, plumbing and pipe fitting, she said.

Overall, construction trades work pay a sustaining wage, especially if it's associated with a union, Vroman-Ells said.

The starting wage in construction trades as an apprentice averages about $16 per hour in central Ohio, she said.

However, someone with a journeyperson certification might make $35 to $40-plus an hour, she said.

The journeyperson certification is a certificate one receives after apprenticeships, and that is recognized across the country, Vroman-Ells said.

"The wage is just absolutely amazing," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah